Fresno Dreaming

Nope. That doesn’t scan. Not at all…


I’m calling the picture above “Bay Window”. That’s because it’s the San Francisco bay outside the train’s window. Ha!

On our last day in San Francisco, our tugboat hosts took us to see the Bay Model. This impressive achievement by the Army Corp of Engineers is a scale model of the Bay Area, built to model the flow of the tides through the Golden Gate. It was forced upon the Corp by Congress who wouldn’t allow a plan to damn parts of the Bay to provide fresh water lakes (or, so the Corps thought), without the Corps finding out what would really happen in miniature.

Turns out, damming the bay would make the trapped water saltier, not fresher. It would have silted things up something fierce. On the basis of the model alone, the Army Corps of Engineers thankfully realized that their plan was Not A Good Idea™, and so they backed off the proposal.

This was in the 1950s, before we had computers, but the model still functions extremely well. It was recently used by the Mythbusters crew to highlight that escapees from Alcatraz would have had a hard time to get to Angel Island, as the FBI suggested they went, since they would have to contend with the bay’s fierce tidal currents. The more likely destination, in fact, was the Marin Headlands, and the model gave the Mythbusters crew enough confidence to make the trip themselves.

The model is impressive. It’s about two football fields big, and it’s impressively detailed, right down to the salinity of the water. It highlights just how big the Bay Area is, stretching all the way back to Sacramento. It’s currently serving to highlight the intricate ecosystem of the bay, and humanity’s complicated relationship with it. Like all US federal museums, admission is free (thanks, Uncle Sam!), and it was open from 9 a.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

After a quick lunch, our hosts took us to Richmond, where we boarded Amtrak’s San Joaquin for the run to Fresno. Amtrak’s fare was extremely reasonable — $90 for a family of four for the three-and-a-half hour trip. We pulled out through the Bay, and having seen the Bay Model, I appreciated better just how big that thing is.

Wendell and Judy were at Fresno station to meet us, and they took us home for the (hopefully) much more relaxing part of our vacation. There’s been a pool visit, and there will be a waterpark, visits with cousins, and a camping trip among the sequoias. It’s dry here, and it’s the hottest we’ve been in at least a year (106’F temperatures greeted us in Fresno, a shock from San Francisco’s 68’F), but we had a thunderstorm last night — an event so shocking, it led off the local news.

Here’s some pictures from the trip

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